It’s been a tough week. Last Tuesday, Ken got a call from his mom that his dad, who’d been suffering from Alzheimer’s and had been in a nursing home for the last couple of years, had stopped eating. He’d been on a steady decline and if any of you know anything about Alzheimer’s disease, you’ll know that’s pretty much a signal that the end is near. And it was. Ken’s father, a lovely man, passed away peacefully on Thursday night at the age of 87, surrounded by people who loved him very much. And while the last two years of his life were incredibly sad, as we watched him drift further and further away from us, I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you a little bit about him.
James Whytock was a kind, hard-working man. He had to quit school and take over the family dairy farm at the age of 16 when his own father passed away very young. He and Ken’s mom built a good life for Ken and his siblings, and I know they all look back on their childhoods with fond memories. One of my first experiences with Jim was when Ken and I had begun dating and I would go with him to the family farm. In the morning, our chore was to feed the calves while Jim milked the cows, and he would razz me about being a ‘city girl’, even though I’d grown up in a town that really wasn’t much of a city, but to Jim, anything larger than the 1000-person town he called home was a metropolis.
He loved to tease people, but never in a mean-spirited way. He was quick with a one-liner and had a variety of sayings for all occasions. He was the skip of our family curling team, and I still laugh when I remember the time we were winning but the other team was gaining points—he leaned over to me, winked, and whispered, “Now the cheese is starting to bind!” It made me laugh so hard that I could barely sweep, but we won the tournament–and some bacon. Even once the dementia got hold of him, there were still glimmers of the old Jim—every once in a while, he’d crack a joke and it would let us know he was in there somewhere.
He was an incredibly creative person. When, at the age of 62, he and Ken’s mom sold the family farm and moved to town, he finally had more time to devote to all his favourite hobbies. He was a talented photographer (in fact, he was the photographer at our wedding and did an amazing job). He also worked with glass. He taught me how to do stained glass, and we shared ideas and designs. He had a glass kiln as well and made all kinds of things out of fused glass, including my favourite set of checkerboard “Alice In Wonderland” coasters.
He collected all kinds of things, notably coins and diecast tractors. Kate inherited his love of coin collecting, and when she was younger, they would discuss coins—she was always impressed by how knowledgeable he was. And not only did he collect tractors, he also customized his own collector vehicles, one of which sits proudly on a shelf in Ken’s office—a gift from his dad.
James Whytock leaves behind a family who loved him very much and who will miss him terribly, and an enduring legacy as a man who always saw the positive side of things—I don’t think I ever heard him say a bad word about anyone, and my last image of him this past Father’s Day was the smile on his face as he ate the chocolate that Ken’s mom brought him. Alzheimer’s is a horrible disease and I’m glad he’s finally at peace.